Woodworking software for design makes you better

image of keyboard

Woodworking design software can make a huge difference in your work. It provides you with the opportunity to create virtual models of pieces, test them out, and then print or cut them from materials like plywood. The only problem is that sometimes you need to step back and figure out how it compares with the real-world approach to design and building furniture. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the differences between these two approaches so that you can decide if computerized woodworking software is for you!

Real vs. virtual

A real-world approach can mean either pencil and paper or going directly to the workshop to start cutting wood. Either way, the process is pretty much sequential. You go from step one to two and so on. When you are at Step Four, for example, fitting, you may need to go back to step one planning. Indeed depending on how much cutting has already been done, that can become a real costly problem! Well more costly in the shop than on a pad of paper anyway.

Computerized woodworking software allows you to design the whole idea or significant segments of it first. Then you can step back into any place and try a revision. The primary benefit of using wood design software is that the effect of the change easily flows into the rest of the design. You have a feedback loop – painless and cost-free trial and error – for your thinking.

In most cases, you layout the overall space, breaking it into segments. You size the overall and, depending on the situation, size the segments to fit into the space. Think about cabinets in a kitchen. A step beyond that – a kitchen in a house layout.

Spend time at this level. Common mistake users make is to start with too many details. They are then forced to hold ideas of both details and overall in their minds simultaneously. Chewing gum while playing flute for some of us. At the ‘upper level,’ you can explore the use of the overall space, proportions of height and width, relationships between assemblies, function, and ease of access and traffic flow.

Going down to the level of designing the assemblies, think the same way. What boards compose the assembly? And just as with the overall space assessment, you can ask yourself questions about overall space, proportions of height and width, relationships between assemblies, function, and ease of access.

When designing at the assembly level, keep cutting, detail, and assembly practices in mind.

On the physical level, of course, there is a negative to this type of exploration. You can build a scale model and fool with it a bit. But you can’t make changes quickly. Once the assembly has been cut into boards and built that cannot be undone.

With the software – SketchList 3D anyway – the easy ability to explore, modify, add and delete let you try and compare more ideas. Put together your ‘computer prototype’ or scale model. Do it several times and compare them. Do they meet your eyeball test for looking right? What about material costs – is one less expensive than the others?

Once you settle in on a woodworking software design, scrutinize it carefully.

Woodworking software cannot do everything for you – there are limits to time and what the software can handle. You have to know them and understand how they work, but once learned, one has an edge over other approaches in time saved.

Computer does not equal no mistakes in woodworking practices. After all, they do what we tell them. So check. Design many, check carefully, and cut once.

This is where reports such as the cut lists, shop drawings, and material layouts come in handy. Quick example? Glance at the parts list and check if all the plywood part thicknesses are ¾. A board set in the design incorrectly will show up like it’s waving a red flag when you do this quick glance check.

Just as you would with a physical 3d model, examine each part and its relationship to the other parts to make sure things are right. Rails and stiles butt together? Is there room for your overlay doors and drawers?

You really need to open the computer model and use what is known as a cut list/layout sheet for each of these. This becomes your eyes on the project; it lets you see all those parts used in construction laid out around your shop. It also provides an excellent check against physical design flaws such as incorrect.

In a nicely done blog post,[Link here] on using and making a cultist Phillip Lowe wrote:

“On the list of fun things a new woodworker might want to try, making a cultist is probably near the bottom. Most of us, beginner or not, would rather be in the shop. But an accurate cut list helps prevent the inconvenience of not buying enough material and the expense of buying too much. Close attention to a cultist also can help avoid mishaps like forgetting to allow extra length for tenons, which can turn valuable wood into miscut scraps.”

The point is the goal of using woodworking design software is not limited to drawings and lists. The goal is to provide you with a mental model of the end product AND the process you will follow to get there. All of this while allowing quick and easy adjustments. The goals are near-perfection once you get into the shop and have fun while you get there.

Overview SketchList 3D in use.


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